Chopra, Deepak. The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore. New York: Random House, 2008. ISBN 9780307338310. $15.00, hardback. 241 pages.
In his latest book, The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore, Deepak Chopra’s main goal is to present what he deems is the true Jesus that two thousand years of Christendom have fought to conceal. He contends that “One Jesus is historical and we know next to nothing about him. Another Jesus is the one appropriated by Christianity. He was created by the Church to fulfill its agenda. The third Jesus…is as yet so unknown that even the most devout Christians don’t suspect that he exists. Yet he is the Christ we cannot – and must not – ignore.” (p. 8) Using very slipshod argumentation bolstered by misappropriated quotations from the New Testament and the Gnostic gospels, Chopra champions himself as the redeemer of the Redeemer. Yet, the process by which Chopra maps new meaning onto the words of Christ displays his ignorance of first century Israel and reduces his work to something laughable and better classified as fiction or fantasy. Through Choprain lenses Jesus becomes a non-dualistic, spiritual guru who, in simple and plain language, tells people that the world of pain and evil is illusory, that the kingdom of God is within each and every one of us because we are all one with the divine, and that to see beyond distinction, beyond the world of illusion is to be freed from karma and ushered into a state of salvation or God-consciousness. Jesus, far from being the Emmanuel, the incarnate God with us, is just a spiritual teacher like the Buddha who had himself arrived at God-consciousness. Jesus and he are one and the same, inviting others to realize the same truth; God is one and you are it.
While Chopra’s writing style is clear and easily accessible to the layperson, his work is neither rigorously academic nor true. Chopra is guilty of bad history, bad theology, bad logic, and blatant untruths. Every turn of the page is a new experience in the irremediable. The nefarious errors in this book are legion and due to space constraints, I will restrict myself to dealing with Chopra’s treatment of the Jesus of history, the Jesus of the New Testament, and the Jesus of non-duality, showing that Chopra, rather than being a redeemer, is really nothing more than an obscurantist distorting, inventing and tailoring history to fit within the constraints of his procrustean bed.
Chopra’s claim that we know almost nothing about the historical Jesus is flatly false and is made without any supporting arguments or citation. Chopra seems to think that merely asserting his version of historical truth will undo the overwhelming evidence that attests to the Jesus of the Scriptures. There remain today some 5000 Greek Manuscripts containing all or part of the New Testament, 8000 copies of the Vulgate, and 350 copies of the Syriac version of the New Testament. Nearly the entire New Testament can be reproduced from citations (roughly 32000) of scripture found within the writings of the early church fathers who predate the council of Nicea in AD 325.
Further, extra-biblical sources such as the writing of Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Pliny the Younger, and others, that date within ninety years of the crucifixion/resurrection event, corroborate the Jesus of the synoptic gospels. Among other details, these external sources describe Jesus as a provocative teacher from the region of Judea who reportedly performed miracles and made prophetic claims. During the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, he was condemned by the Jewish leaders and crucified by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate at the time of the Jewish Passover. Also, Jesus’ followers, called Christians, worshiped Jesus Christ as God and believed that he had risen from the dead, evidenced by their celebration of the Eucharist in their services. Far from Chopra’s claim that we know next to nothing about the historical Jesus, Jesus and Christianity have always been deeply rooted in a history that has been well preserved. Dismissing this historical Jesus, Chopra unblushingly ushers in a rendering of Jesus that, were he to be placed into first century
When dealing with the Jesus of the New Testament, Chopra shows absolutely no regard for the context of the passages he uses to support his argument nor does he read them with respect to the historical context in which they were written. He takes passages and the contents of these passages and twists them unashamedly beyond recognition. Consider his rendering of John 8:58, the clearest example of bad hermeneutics. “When Jesus says of himself, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am,” he is referring to his state of being. He isn’t talking about a previous incarnation. If he were, he would say “before Abraham was, I was.” Instead he uses the present tense, “I am,” to denote an existence beyond time. It takes no great leap to believe that when Jesus told his followers to go inward, “he wanted them to discover this state of being for themselves” (p.88). In context, Jesus is not making reference to some previous incarnation. Chopra seems to think that this is the normal Christian rendering of the passage but it is not. Rather, Jesus is identifying himself with the great “I AM” who spoke to Moses, the God of Abraham the father of the Jews (Exod 3:14). In other words, he is very openly identifying himself as God. And, in context, the Jews who heard Jesus use this name picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy. This is just one of Chopra’s many blatant ill renderings of the scriptural accounts. In another place, he quotes Jesus as saying, “As you sow, so shall you reap,” … and … “Be in the world, but not of it.” (p.50) With these he argues that Jesus was clearly teaching on the spiritual principal of karma and the world as illusion. There’s just one problem; Jesus didn’t say either of these. The closest Jesus comes to saying “be in the world, but not of it,” is found in John 17 where Jesus is praying for those who were given to him by the Father and who will still be in the world after he leaves. He prays for their protection so that they may be in unity. And, while the idea of reaping what one sows is a spiritual principal that is affirmed by Scripture (Prov 22:8; 2 Cor. 9:6; Gal 6:7-8; James 3:18), Jesus makes no direct reference to it. Further, the notion of karmic debt is wholly different from the principle of reaping what one sows and can in no way be ascribed to Jesus without doing a serious disservice to his teaching and to the first century culture to which he belonged.
Operating out of a monistic mindset and presenting Jesus as a non-dualist, Chopra runs into trouble time and again as he uses classical forms of logical argumentation to support a system of belief that does not acknowledge such foundational a priori laws. Let’s be clear: Chopra believes that all is one and believes also that Jesus would agree with him. At one point he declares, “Whereas I turn on the television and see carnage in the Middle East with roadside bombs and blood everywhere, Jesus would see only light, and his compassion would go out to the suffering, not because of their pain so much as for their inability to be in the light with him, since there they would find the end of suffering. … If you think about going to the movie this afternoon, that thought came from the light. The same is true if you are thinking about your next meal, or sex, or how to stop smoking.” (p. 25) To this statement we could add, “or thinking about how to steal your neighbor’s wife, commit genocide, and become a megalomaniacal tyrant.” There is no distinction in Chopra’s worldview and thus there is no distinction between good and evil. As he says, “If you can see that the war between good and evil is nothing but a play of light and shadow, your certainty about the existence of evil will fade away (p. 28) [and you will see how] Jesus symbolized the transcendent self that renders the ego irrelevant and transforms duality into oneness with God” (p. 217). Jesus, however, very clearly and frequently acknowledges a dualistic world in which morality is central. Consider Mat 15:18-20: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean.’” Ironically, through his writing, Chopra is stating that we should see things in his monistic way; contrary to his own worldview, this presupposes a morality and a duality. He is using the “either/or” to assert the “both/and.” At the end of his book, after he has spent 219 pages calling his flock to follow in the footsteps of Jesus on the road to God-consciousness, Chopra makes some very dualistic, claims. He weighs in on abortion, gay rights, women’s rights and war condemning the Christian Church for using Jesus as a bludgeoning tool when - according to him - the real Jesus would have done no such thing. Aside from the fact that these arguments are feeble, banal, unsupported and undocumented, one has to ask, “What is Chopra doing?” Either he is addressing something that is not real in which case his admonishing is nonsensical or his world of illusion has just become very real. Which one is it? Either evil is or it is not. You can’t have it both ways.
In the end, Chopra’s book leads to a Jesus who sees beyond distinction and is both “impersonal” and “loving”(p. 218). This, however, makes absolutely no sense. Love, by definition, requires distinction; it necessitates a subject and an object, a lover and a beloved. Without distinction, love cannot exist. Yet, Chopra would have us believe that this Jesus is authentic. However, his means of persuasion entail a spectacular display of shoddy academics, appalling theology and logical buffoonery making his book intellectually unpalatable and impossible to take seriously.